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Why buying a domain name is a very good idea.

02 October, 2013

A domain gives your website or blog a platform-independent identity. It gives you freedom to sell the site later if you want. It lets you change platform, host or even domain itself without affecting users or SEO backlinks and search engine ranks. Learn more about these and other benefits of buying a domain...
The main focus of The Webmaster Journey is to explore resources, tools, techniques and ideas for running websites for free. It is technically possible to run a website for free on different platforms (we will look at them in another post). But as I have noted earlier (but not elaborated) I would recommend that you make one essential expense - purchase a domain for your site. In this post I explain the reasons why purchasing a domain of your own is a very very good idea, even though it costs some money.

A domain gives your site address a professional feel and brand identity.

When you use a public blogging platform like Blogger, Wordpress (free version), Tumblr or others, they will give you an identity on their own subdomain. For example, 
subdomainsarecrap.blogspot.com subdomainsarecrap.wordpress.com subdomainsarecrap.tumblr.com
This makes your site come across as amateur. A name on its own, like subdomainsarecrap.com would sound crisper, more professional, easier to type, easier to remember, and create a better brand identification with readers. For people who consider blogspot, tumblr blogs as amateur, a domain of your own sends the message that you mean business!

A domain puts you in control of your own url

When your site url ends in blogspot, wordpress tumblr, etc, your identity on the web is entirely in control of these platforms. If the platform decides to suspend your blog or account for any reason, or itself ceases to exist (like Posterous went bust), your whole identity disappears! On the other hand if you buy your own domain and use it with these free platforms, your identity on the internet is intact even if the underlying blog/site disappears. You just need to get your content back up on same or different platform!

A domain provides a stable identity to your users and search engines

From the above paragraph, you may ask why is it so necessary to be in control of your own url, or identity on the web? Why not just setup the blog at another url if one public platform url goes down? Well it is the means by which readers reach you. They may remember and type your url, they may bookmark it, or use any such means of recording it. If it is gone, these readers will not know how to reach you!
Another important aspect is back-links and search engine rankings. As more people begin to like your website or find it useful, they may link to it or to some of its specific pages from their own webites/blogs. Seeing such 'back-links' tells the search engines that your site is nice and significant. So they start showing your site's pages at higher ranks in their search results. If you lose your original url and setup an identical website/blog at another url, the old links from people will no longer link to your new site and its pages. So even if your site carries the same content as before, the search engines will stop showing your articles at same high ranks as before. So you better be in control of your own url!

A domain gives flexibility to change your blogging platform or host

Let us say your free blogging or hosting platform never suspends or deletes your blog or your account, and it never goes kaput like Posterous. That is all good. But what if you decide that another platform is better? Maybe you find out that Blogger offers some better features than your current platform Tumblr. Or maybe LiveJournal launches some awesome features that makes you want to leave current Blogger platform. Or maybe you decide you want the full flexibility and control offered by self-hosted wordpress. Or maybe you want to move to your own custom built site! This move becomes viable without losing your old readers, backlinks and search engine rankings only if you had your own domain instead of using the free urls that ended in blogspot.com, tumblr.com or such domains.

A domain gives flexibility to change your website domain itself! 

Suppose you were blogging at subdomainsarecrap.blogspot.com. You decide that instead of that, you like subdomainsareok.blogspot.com better. Surely, Blogger will allow you to change your url. But again, users, back-links and search engine ranks will be gone. Same would be true for most other platforms. But if you have your blog at your own custom domain like subdomainsarecrap.com, and you want to now change it to subdomainsareok.com, it is a simple thing as long as you own both the old domain subdomainsarecrap.com & the new domain subdomainsareok.com. You can set the DNS records of your new domain to your existing site, and you can set-up the old domain to redirect it to your new domain! You can do 301 or 302 redirects. 302 will just redirect users who try to access the old url, while 301 will also pass backlinks and search engine ranking benefits of old url. We will take this up in more details in another post.

With your own domain, you may sell your site in future

For most platforms. you have right on your content, but you neither own the site url (which ends in blogspot.com or such platform specific domain) nor do the terms and conditions let you 'sell your blog'. If you own the domain, the doman which got popular because of your blog could be sold at a good price because of traffic and backlinks, as well as the quality of domain itself it it is considered to have good quality, in demand format and word(s). Or you could sell the domain as well as content after changing your content hosting from a free blogging platform to your own paid server.

An owned domain lets you have unlimited subdomain sites with a central identity

When you have a domain, you can theoretically create an unlimited number of subdomains on it at no extra cost, and have separate or related sites on all those subdomains. I myself run a number of sites at subdomains of site stupidosaur.net, such as web-journey.stupidosaur.net (this site), comics.stupidosaur.net (funny webcomics), pics.stupidosaur.net (photos), blog.stupidosaur.net and some more. One very popular high ranking site network like this is about.com  who have various topics on various subdomains.

You can set up email ids at your domain

Depending on the offer provided by the domain registrar you buy your domain from, you can setup one or more email ids at that domain, either for free at some extra cost.

An advantage specific to using your own domain for Blogger

Since early 2012, Blogger redirects urls on blogspot.com domains to various country specific domains such as blogspot.ca (Canada), blogspot.co.uk (UK), blogspot.in (India) etc depending on the country from which you access that blogspot blog. It is said that this is to enable Google to censor content specific to countries, if ordered by those countries' laws. This has several disadvantages for your blog. As traffic gets split between various domains, each domain will rank lower in traffic based ranking services like Alexa, Quantcast, etc. Also, when people link back to your site, they will link back to whichever country specific domain they are able to access. So your backlinks will also get split between domains and affect ranking of your site pages in search engines. If you buy and use a custom domain with Blogger, these disadvantages go away!  
So you can see, there are lot of advantages of getting your own domain, which can cost you anywhere from around $5 to $25 per year depending upon what top level domain (TLD) you choose (.com,.net, etc) what domain registrar you buy from, what discounts are going on, etc. This expense is worth it and you should definitely get a domain.
There are many factors to consider when buying a domain, such as choice of the top level domain (TLD) to buy, choice of the domain registrar to buy from, as well as how to choose the domain name itself. We will be looking at these factors in several future posts.
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